Saturday 10 December 2016

'You want to be on the wall like them' - Rice

Cian Murphy

Published 01/12/2015 | 02:30

IT'S the picture that became an internet sensation and even made rugby legend Paul O'Connell jealous.

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But for Michael Rice the sight of a thicket of hurleys resting up outside the church door at St Kieran's College is just an everyday part of their way of life. Rice is one of the umpteen examples of how the Kilkenny institution helped mould a young hurling talent who would go on to deliver for Kilkenny at senior All-Ireland level.

Not only is he a past pupil and proud holder of two Leinster schools medals and an All-Ireland from 2000, but he is back in St Kieran's as a teacher now and appreciates more than ever before the connection that exists between the school and hurling and the role they play in Kilkenny GAA.

He says: "It was funny listening to Paul O'Connell talking about that picture of the hurleys outside the church. I was joking with another of the teachers here that religion in Kilkenny equals that picture. The young lads here come to school with their hurleys. They hurl before school, they hurl at the 11 o'clock break, again at 1.0 for lunch and again in the evenings. When I was younger all I ever wanted to do was go to St Kieran's because of hurling."

In more recent times St Kieran's are being pushed all the way by their neighbours and Marble City rivals Kilkenny CBS for success.

But there's no disputing the fact that St Kieran's have played a key role in the production of a generation of Kilkenny hurling talent which has given the county its most glorious period ever. For Michael Rice, a pupil from 1996 to 2002, it is a place that inspires.

"The big goal when you come in is to make the U-14 team," he says. "It can be difficult for players who might be used to being the big fish in the pond in their club but who aren't seen like that when they come into St Kieran's and they have to learn to fight of their place.

"I think it is a big thing that has helped us and if you didn't fight to win your place there well, you wouldn't get much further.

"When you walk through the halls you see the pictures of previous teams that have won Leinster and the All-Ireland and you want to be up on the wall too just like them. There is a big expectation. I wouldn't say there is a pressure - but you are conscious of the teams and the great players that have gone before and seeing those players is a big motivation."

In 2000, he was on the same panel as a side starring Tipp's Eoin Kelly and Offaly's Brian Carroll as well as Kilkenny's Tommy Walsh and Jackie Tyrrell that won Leinster and the All-Ireland.

Captain

In 2002, Rice was captain on a team that would end up with Richie Power in goal and star himself, James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, John Tennyson and Eoin Reid - only for Andrew O'Shaughnessy and St Colman's to beat them by a point in the All-Ireland.

It says a lot about what a Leinster GAA Schools Senior 'A' title means that for all that Rice went on to win under another Kieran's boy called Brian Cody, the disappointment of that defeat in 2002 is still raw. These days Rice is operating with one of the U-16 'B' teams, something he is eager to stress is an important part of their development plan.

Henry Shefflin is another past pupil who infamously wasn't an automatic star early on in St Kieran's - but the character-forming battle for his place would stand him in good stead.

Rice says: "We often see players who might not be the star at U-14 but who work hard and develop and still mightn't make the U16 'A' team but by the time they are senior they have fully developed. Schools hurling is a great competition. I got to play alongside Tommy Walsh from the age of 13 upwards and learnt a lot from playing with so many great players."

Irish Independent

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